October 05, 2018

Jeff Bezos is Mao

As in Mao Zedong, circa Cultural Revolution era.

That's my ultimate takeaway from this long NYT piece about Amazon's corporate culture in action.

The relentless self-criticism, the employees spying on each other, management fueling both of those?

That was written three years ago.

Now, Bezos agreeing to people at least $15 an hour, even temp/contract employees? It may make that culture even worse. We'll see how many people stay that long.

One thing I simply do not get is why Bezos welcomes the turnover rate this causes. (He and other top brass denied for the record Amazon has unusual employee attrition, even in the face of stats showing it does, and Bezos is VERY statistics oriented.) Business management surveys, etc., consistently show that employee training is a high cost that should be controlled.

On the other hand, the Amazon corporate style, where the massive Maoism seems to be a main part of training, may be cheaper than elsewhere. And, perhaps part of it is an expectation of self-training, otherwise.

And, even where Bezos seems to be doing good in the terms of being a good corporate citizen, he isn't. Yes, he collects online sales taxes for states. But only for products he directly sells. His third-party vendors (like you or I selling a used book there)? Nope, he doesn't. And, David Dayen says this is more than half his business. (Three states require Amazon collect these taxes for its third-party vendors.) Per that link, here's the Amazon letter to shareholders that notes that. Oh, and that percentage was on the rise up to that point. Expect Amazon to try to knock the likes of eBay out of business at some point.

More here in a great piece from the Verge on how the Amazon third-party sellers market is a Wild West, and why Amazon encourages it.

At the same time, Bezos keeps the third-party vendors in line by "juicing" its own products, allegedly. And, speaking of juicing? The claims of Amazon Prime shipment times are more and more flat-out lies.

Also, despite complaints from former Amazon buyers like me, Bezos doesn't care about Chinese, Indian or Nigerian scammers muscling into its third-party vendor world. If it makes a sale and gets its cut off the purchase price, fine. If fraud actually happens, it's up to you to prove it, or to fight with the vendor if you don't think a scammy sale can be proven fraudulent. (Been there, done that, and Amazon won't let you rate an individual sale based on vendor/sale problems, just the product.) If this forces all third-party vendors to cut prices, and thus drive yet more business to Amazon, great!

As for paying contractors more? If you're one of its delivery drivers, living in Uber-like employment, you've still got your own insurance overhead, and just like with driving for Uber, Geico or State Farm will leave your ass high and dry if you have a wreck as a corporate employee and get sued. (Amazon and Uber will also leave you high and dry. You're on the hook for health care, of course. And, arguably, Amazon is breaking the law by counting employees as independent contractors.

Finally, if Bernie Sanders thinks he has a "win" with Bezos agreeing to $15 an hour, I wouldn't count those chickens yet. Indeed, the pay hike is already confirmed to be at the expense of other Amazon employees with company service time.

AND, updating Oct. 13, there IS a huge fucking catch. Amazon contract delivery drivers, who have already been subject to wage theft by Amazon, DO NOT QUALIFY. Read that full link for the full rip-off info and more.

There's a whole laundry list of other complaints against Amazon, anyway, like its providing web services to the CIA, and, related to that, the long tentacles in general of Amazon Web Services. Oh, and a reminder that Chairman Mao's company helps ICE just like it helps the CIA.


And, somehow, National Enquirer got a hold of some selfie pics of Jeff's "Little Mao," to which he responds on Medium.

October 04, 2018

Is the Corps about to foist an Ike Dike on us?

Both here and here, I provided various reasons why I did NOT want the hugely anti-environmentalist U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (along with state-level Texas A&M military and civilian engineering toadies) building a so-called Ike Dike for Houston.

In a nutshell:
1. An Ike Dike would do bupkis for Hurricane Harvey inland-generated flooding. Houston has had tropical storms and even tropical depressions, or just plain old weather systems, cause inland-generated flooding. An Ike Dike helps none of that; fixing the Corps-created reservoirs does more.
2. Claims of a Greater New Orleans Barrier in Greater NOLA as a starting point for an Ike Dike are simply bullshit. Oh, and who's already responsible for barriers, levees, etc., around New Orleans? No names, but its initials are C-O-R-P-S.
3. The cost of an Ike Dike would probably be at least triple of what the Corps claims. Other Texans should not be stuck with bailing out Houston, on a state share, nor should the rest of the nation be stuck with bailing out Texas, especially with a state led by climate change denialists.

But the Corps appears ready to foist upon us either an Ike Dike or an Ike Dike Lite. Riffing on my "numbers" worry, the boondogglers have already raised the cost to a $22-30 billion level, far above the $15 billion or less that was being discussed just a couple of years ago. The boondoggling will go higher if the Corps, as is likely given its past history, takes most of BOTH the A&M and Rice ideas into its master plan.

Also troubling is that many backers of the Ike Dike, such as John Cornyn on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Oct. 9, won't allow for, or even mention, climate change.

Anyway, the Corps will take both online and in-person comment, as well as holding meetings in Greater Houston. Tell it no.

Oct. 26: Here's details of the survey. Email contact to address the Corps is at top of page 1.

Oct. 31: The Sierra Club's Houston group also raises two/three other questions. They are: What will the long term maintenance costs be (or has anybody calculated this?), and who will pay them?

Lupe Valdez: Can't one be charitable AND organized?

Brains, in saying he will vote for Lupe Valdez in her race against Gov. Greg Abbott, cites a Jonathan Tilove piece about her generosity in giving below-market rents on some of her Dallas properties to up-and-coming entrepreneurs, especially those of color.

And, that leads to my header.

Can't Loopy Lupe have more generosity and yet pay her property taxes on time? Even more, why doesn't she have a foundation or something to help with this?

As Tilove notes, the late payments aren't a one-time thing. They've been ongoing for years.

And, as I will say in an upcoming piece about decently-paid public school teachers living beyond their means, if you can't budget, you may have problems. I mean, Valdez was making $139,000 a year as sheriff, as I note here, and when the property tax issue first broke, her spox had a crappy explanation. It was also a wrong explanation. As Tilove notes, most the properties Valdez owns have had no real appreciation to speak of, therefore their property taxes have been entirely predictable. It's something he could have easily pointed out himself, but maybe he's still hungover from a Beto Kool-Aid drunk.

Again, why not start a small foundation, sheriff? If your rents are truly and consistently below market, you could surely claim tax deductions. You could do that for a foundation, if you set one up, rather than yourself individually. You could grow your properties, including that community garden you dream of.

The story is good indeed about Valdez's care for poor and near-poor people, as Brains rightly notes. But it also continues to demonstrate her organizational faults.

I've met her before, more than once, when I lived in the Metromess. Found her to be personable and engaging. I also had a friend who was arrested, then forgotten about in Lew Sterrett for 48 hours or so. Personable is great, but disorganized continues to go on and on. It's not just my arrested and forgotten friend. I had four years professionally to see Valdez in operation professionally. Click the tag. In the four years before I left Dallas County, I never saw serious development in her organizational skills. Haven't in the nine-plus years since.

Again, setting up a nonprofit corporation shouldn't be that hard. Yes, it would have some "fanfare"involved, but that too might help Valdez's goals, whether or not it helped her personally on her finances that much.


Updates: First, per my two polls at top right, I'll eat my hat if Valdez does better than White did in 2010. And, to segue to my second point, if that DOES happen, it will be because Beto was the rising tide lifting all boats in the Doink party, not her.

Second and speaking of, is she not trying to coattail on him more? (Maybe she is and he's brushing her off.) I can accept Brains' angle that voting for her, and pushing others to do so, might help downballot races. I still don't think it will help as much as he thinks it will help.

Third, a rhetorical question to Brains, per our exchange of comments. If Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner somehow got the Doink's gubernatorial nod in 2022, and Tilove or somebody else found out that he was making some modest below-market rents to a few black residents in the relevant black wards of Houston, would you vote for him rather than undervote, letting that news trump everything else you know about him?

Fourth, on the missing gun? Whoever's fault it ultimately was for being lost, Valdez admitted she didn't follow protocol for turning it in. Disorganization.

Sidebar: I just Googled, but haven't come across any post-debate polling on the race, which would partially reflect just how well Valdez did. Her Rainy Day Fund comment was good.

October 02, 2018

TX Progressives enter October as election finish line nears

The Progressive Alliance moves to October and looks at the looming finish line for the election season.

Socratic Gadfly broke down the motivations of Kavanaugh and interlocutor Jeff Flake, as the confirmation process paused for the FBI to conduct an investigation into some of the allegations against the nominee.

Bonddad's thought from yesterday is that Trump is stomping all over the economic message that Republicans are trying to run on in 2018.

After the second debate between Beto O'Rourke and Ted Cruz got postponed due to the machinations associated with the Kavanuagh confirmation hearings, Beto scheduled a rally in Austin with Willie Nelson.  And it was huuuuge. RG Ratcliffe was there and filed a report.

Lupe Valdez got the best of Greg Abbott in their debate Friday evening, but RG wondered if their fundraising difference would be an insurmountable obstacle for the challenger.

Brains talks about an important issue to Houston voters, Proposition B on firefighter pay.

The Texas Tribune brought many of the state and nation's movers and shakers together at #TribFest18, from Eric Holder and Amy Klobuchar to Michael Avenatti and Nancy Pelosi.  Some of the Republican candidates for Speaker of the Texas House also introduced themselves.  Oh, and a few candidates for office showed up, like Beto.

Texas Standard talked to journalists Nancy Barnes, executive editor of the Houston Chronicle, Anna Palmer, a senior Washington correspondent for Politico and co-author of their twice-daily newsletter Playbook, and Mike Wilson, editor of The Dallas Morning News, about the effect the Texas Senate race is having on the downballot midterm contests.

Also from TribFest, and via Progrexas, the CEO of Southwest Key (that's the company managing baby jails all over Texas) claimed he had no financial interest in a company that SW Key leases some of its facilities from.  That turned out to be a false statement.

Sid Miller's sloppy handling of another yet another program -- tick pesticide administration -- brings more focus to his completely inept management of the state's Agriculture Department.  Michael Barajas at the Texas Observer has the story.

Barajas at the TO also had a compelling piece about how the Collin County GOP derailed the criminal prosecution of Ken Paxton, and made him a conservative folk hero.

Allegations of sexual misconduct endanger state Sen. Charles Schwertner's enclave of power, and by extension the recently-strengthened grasp of the Republican majority in that body.  (This blogger is not able to more forcefully condemn Schwertner because his own state senator happens to be Borris Miles.  And until this blogger and his neighbors can clean up their own glass house, it's best not to throw stones.)

The SAEN reports that the  mayors of Texas' largest cities are joining forces to protect themselves against the Texas Legislature's efforts to assert dominance over their 'local control' initiatives.

As the deadline to register to vote in this autumn's election approaches, Texas Freedom Networkacknowledges the efforts of 'Texas Rising' to engage adults from ages 18-29 to get involved.

Andrea Zelinski at the Chron notes that the Texas GOP, fearful of a blue wave, is working hard to scare out its straight-ticket voters.  Greg Abbott, ignoring his own opponent as usual, went on Fox News just this morning and attacked O'Rourke as a 'cult-like figure, similar to Wendy Davis'.  Expect more of these crazed, venomous rants as we get closer to the early voting period.

David Collins explains his voting motivations, Pages of Victory is a little depressed about the state of national affairs after watching the Kavanaugh hearing -- and challenges America's youth to pick up the gauntlet, and Lawflog observes that not only can the dead vote ... they can hire legal representation!

Grits for Breakfast has another comprehensive aggregation of criminal justice news that includes news about the resignation of Bexar County's top jailer, the Austin PD's too-high rate of shootings of people experiencing a mental health crisis, the McClennan County (Waco) biker/Twin Peaks cases still languishing, and more.

The Texas Moratorium Network asks for some financial help to bring five death row exonerees to Austin for their March to Abolish the Death Penalty on Saturday, October 20.

With funding approved by the Dallas City Council, a plan for the city's response to climate change moves ahead, says Rita Beving at Texas Vox.

October 01, 2018

Can Beto O'Rourke take down Ted Cruz?

Probably not, but it's not impossible.

Brains has a "cold hard reality" piece for Texas Dems in general, not just Beto, but it's a good starting point.

The key link is to this Texas Politics piece.

Now, I'm planning on undervoting that race, but I can offer a sunnier scenario for Beto than it does.

Let's go back to 2010, and a GOP vote edge of just 630,000. Then, let's take the rest of Texas Politics' math straight up. IF Beto can flip 15 percent of GOP votes plus boost Donkey turnout 20 percent, it says that adds up to 800,000 votes. And he's up 170K by that math.

Is this realistic, even at the long tail of one end of a bell curve? Or is it too much?

We have three background issues at play.

One, is 2010 or 2014 a better assessment of Texas Republican vs Democrat midterm strength? In 2010, Tricky Ricky Perry was a multi-term incumbent governor. Plus side? Plenty of name recognition. Minus side? People were tired of him — on top of the tiredness that led to the four-person race in 2006, some of which he had overcome by 2010, tea partier types were even more tired than they were four years earlier. Abbott in 2014 was a fresh face and conservative darling. And, I don't think Bill White was that much better a Democratic candidate in 2010 than Wendy Davis in 2014.

Two, speaking of gov candidates, how much of a boat anchor will Lupe Valdez be? Two polls in the past week show her at 10 points or less of Abbott. How she does in her debate Friday could be key. She had better be heavily coached up, yet without making her "plastic."

Three, there was no Senate race in 2010. How that affected the midterm party gap vs. 2014 (Cornyn against a weak challenger) I don't know.

Bobby Kennedy and Rafa the Dominionist have two more debates set. The Sept. 30 town-hall style could give Beto a pitch or two right in the wheelhouse. That was scrubbed due to Kavanaugh fallout with no definite replacement time set. That makes the Oct. 16 debate, complete with two full weeks of run-up, must-see TV.

I still remain skeptical of Beto's ability to turn out Hispanic voters, given that he refuses to play old-time retail politics in the Valley, as I have noted before. Given Zodiac Ted's unpopularity, I think flipping 15 percent of GOP votes is more likely than boosting Dem turnout 20 percent. At the same time, though, if 2010's gap is the real one, not 2014's, O'Rourke just needs 210K more Doinks if he can steal 15 percent of Rethugs, or a little under 12 percent.

Update: I was asked on Twitter Monday night if I thought this could actually happen. My take on the numbers is that Beto is likely to fall short. I expect Cruz to win by somewhere between 5 and 10 percentage points. That would give Beto a moral victory of enough stature to perhaps put him into the Doinks' 2020 Prez discussion per Jonathan Tilove's thoughts and possible wet dreams. Since 1988 and Lloyd Bentsen being the last Dem elected to the Senate, the "flip" in Texas politics has been a hard one — no Senate race since then has been within 10 percentage points. By a fraction of a percentage point, Tricky Ricky Perry's four-way race for re-election as governor was within 10 percentage points and his 1998 lite guv race was far closer. And that's been it in Texas politics.

As of Sept. 28, Five Thirty Eight, with da mayor Nate Silver himself writing, had Beto within 5 percentage points. He said that non-polling info actually tilted Beto's way more than Ted's. I'm still not convinced it will be that close, let alone that Beto will win, but who knows?

And, getting his moment of limelight from the Snooze, there's the question about what Libertarian Neal Dikeman will do to this race. The Texas Libertarian Party is, from my low-level knowledge of the LP across the nation, moderately robust but not tremendously so. I don't expect Dikeman to get above 2.5 percent and even breaking 2.0 percent would be on the high side.

Translating my expected gap into odds? I give Beto a 10-20 percent shot. Again, if you're not familiar with Texas politics of the last ... geez, 25-plus years now, that is a "realistic" campaign within the current parameters.